time warp!

This week seems like a good time to post about my own daily time warping, given the overnight clock shenanigans.

Around midday on Tuesday, I was finishing up class prep for my English Literature I class and I’d just done some reading for a conference paper I’m working on. Early that morning, I’d spent my writing time on my novel, and it was very much an ordinary type of Tuesday, a good Tuesday, one in which I’d felt I used my time wisely and well, on the whole. Still, there was something big and breathless-feeling in my brain, everything just trying to catch up—to what, I wasn’t sure.
It took longer than I’d like to admit to figure it out: it was just trying to get settled in crossing eight hundred years of historical context and detail in the space of six hours. My novel is set in the early eighteenth century, and the process is immersive, drawing on the huge body of research I collected at the American Antiquarian Society this summer, and I’ve been mentally hanging out there for a good long while now. When I got to my office, before the building really started buzzing with activity, I settled in with a volume of conference proceedings on eleventh-century Archbishop Wulfstan. I spent about two hours switching my brain over to Old English and the niceties of transition between Æthelred and Canute, as well as the particular language of academe. (I tend to think medievalists avoid some of the worst lit-crit buzzword bingo offenses, but as I’m not a professionally trained linguist, I bring my own set of challenges to this kind of reading. Luckily, I also bring my OED.) After that, I put together class notes for our first day discussing Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night, easily my favorite play, and though those came together rather quickly and happily, there was that final gasping feeling.

I wrote a quick e-mail to a friend, essentially making a joke about the temporal whiplash I was feeling. It’s not new for me—my teaching responsibilities have always meant switching between time periods and subject matter, and working both as a creative writer and a literary scholar demands that, too—but I don’t think I’ve ever been doing work so tightly pinpointed and demanding in such diverse periods before. My last novel project was contemporary; while I definitely did some research, I felt pretty well qualified in describing clothing and hair and food in twenty-first century America. When I dabbled in medieval studies, that was the only leap I was making at the time, and that certainly fed into the medieval lit course I was teaching at the time. The novel before that, my dissertation, was set in the same period as my scholarship: more Anglo-Saxon England, but that was half a decade ago, and I wasn’t confronting a whole new set of texts.

Still, despite the strange flurry in my brain most of the time, the interplay of times and topics is helpful to me, particularly to my teaching, because this particular cocktail of timelines keeps me very mindful of the connections between history and literature and the evolution thereof. And, for better or worse, they’re sparking other connections, especially in my creative writing. The next-novel queue is a firm four texts deep, and I’m actively adding to their Evernote catch-all files whenever I encounter something helpful.

Earlier today, I was making fun of myself and my inability to sort interesting things into just one box because I’d found a somewhat snarky response to Wulfstan from Ælfric. It might be useful for my scholarly project, but I was more interested in it as a dramatized moment, and I filed it away because it might be particularly relevant to Second-Novel-in-the-Queue. Still, it’s easy for me to overwhelm myself.

Having a good system to hold onto those diverse pieces helps. I use Evernote. I also have physical notebooks for certain projects, and I make a point to transfer whatever handwritten bits and pieces end up in my daily everything journal to some electronic source because I spent way too much time during the last move dutifully typing up hundreds of scraps. (Though laborious, it was better than the prospect of hauling another box of paper up to a third floor apartment.)

What do you use to keep track of these things? Do you follow the Joan Didion admonition to keep a notebook, even if it’s digital? Or do you trust that the most important things will stick in memory, that if they’re really the lightning flash they feel like at first, they’ll stay burned in the brain?

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